Iraqi Police Should Be Scrapped, Army Far From Ready
A blue ribbon commission chaired by former Supreme Allied Commander James Jones* has concluded that the Iraqi national police are so corrupt that they should be disbanded and recreated from scratch and that the Iraqi army is still more than a year away from being able to operate independently.
Karen DeYoung‘s report on A1 of today’s WaPo:
Iraq’s army, despite measurable progress, will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and “cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven,” according to a report on the Iraqi security forces published today.
The report, prepared by a commission of retired senior U.S. military officers, describes the 25,000-member Iraqi national police force and the Interior Ministry, which controls it, as riddled with sectarianism and corruption. The ministry, it says, is “dysfunctional” and is “a ministry in name only.” The commission recommended that the national police force be disbanded.
Although citing recent “tactical success” and favorable “strategic implications” resulting from the Bush administration’s current war strategy, the commission recommends that U.S. troops in Iraq be “retasked” in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning internal security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies.
The report expresses concern about what it calls the massive U.S. military logistical “footprint” in Iraq and its effect on perceptions and problems. “The unintended message conveyed is one of ‘permanence,’ an occupying force, as it were,” the report says. It recommends reconsideration of “efficiency, necessity . . . and cost” and calls for “significant reductions, consolidations and realignments” of U.S. forces.
All of Iraq’s 18 provinces should be transferred to government control, the report says — only seven currently have that status — and a formal status-of-forces agreement should be pursued with the Iraqi government. “We believe that all [U.S.] bases in Iraq should demonstrate evidence of Iraqi sovereignty,” including flying the Iraqi flag, the report says. “There is a fine line,” it says, “between assistance and dependence.”
“We’ve always recognized that this is a long-term project,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, who had not seen the report. “Getting the Iraqi army on its feet and capable of defending the borders of that country independently is not an overnight project, and we are continuing to work on it.”
The Pentagon is committed to rebuilding the Iraqi army, Morrell said. “I don’t know if it takes 12 months, I don’t know if it takes six months, I don’t know if it takes longer,” Morrell said. “But we are committed to stay as long as it takes to help the Iraqi army gets back on its feet to the point that they’re able to take on the normal functions of an army.”
Morrell said the size of Iraq’s police should be put into context. “The National Police are 25,000 police officers,” he said. “It’s not reflective of the entire Ministry of Interior police force, which I think includes roughly 300,000 local and provincial police as well.”
AP‘s report, though, shows that the Pentagon is fully aware of the situation and taking proactive measures:
“It should come as no surprise to anyone that there have been problems with sectarianism within the Iraqi national police force, and we have been working on it along with the Iraqi government for some time to fix that problem,” Morrell said. “We believe we now have a program in place which is showing progress, and that is by what we like to call `reblooming’ the Iraqi national police force. We are revetting, retraining and then reintroducing forces into the Iraqi national police force,” he added. “The intent of the program is to rid the Iraqi national police force of their sectarian biases that have been present from the get-go.”
At least five of the nine police brigades have been taken off duty and sent to be retrained and reintegrated into the force, said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman. He said the Iraqi government also recently approved a plan to hire some 2,000 internal affairs personnel to investigate problems in the force.
A senior general in Iraq, meanwhile, said in an AP interview Friday that he agrees the Iraqi national police should undergo retraining, adding that their biggest problem is a lack of experienced leadership. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said by telephone that sectarianism had been a problem in one of the two main national police units in his area, but that has since been corrected. “Certainly some retraining would be beneficial,” Mixon said, but he did not endorse the idea of scrapping the current force and starting over. “There is no question that the government of Iraq needs some type of police force that is mobile, that can move into certain areas that require police strengthening for selected periods of time. If that’s the way they reshape them I think that would be a good idea.”
The Iraqi National Police, a paramilitary organization run by the Interior Ministry, has long been feared and distrusted by the Iraqi people and is considered the weak link in the Iraqi security system. Many of its early senior officers were veterans of the Badr Brigade, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia formed in Iran from among Shiite refugees who had fled Saddam Hussein’s rule. The national police are separate from the far more numerous local police.
Additional findings (CNN):
- The Defense Ministry “is building the necessary institutions and processes to fulfill its mission. However, its capacity is hampered by bureaucratic inexperience, excessive layering, and overcentralization. These flaws reduce the operational readiness, capability, and effectiveness of the Iraqi military.”
- The Iraqi army and special forces “possess an adequate supply of willing and able manpower and a steadily improving basic training capability” and “are making efforts to reduce sectarian influence within their ranks and are achieving some progress. Substantial progress can be achieved to that end.”
- The “Iraqi air force’s relatively late establishment hampers its ability to provide much-needed air support to ground operations” but “it is nonetheless progressing at a promising rate during this formative period.”
- “The Iraqi navy is small and its current fleet is insufficient to execute its mission. However, it is making substantive progress in this early stage of development.”
None of this (except perhaps the news on the navy and air force, which are generally ignored in news coverage) is overly surprising to those who have followed events in Iraq closely. Still, the harshness of the assessment of the police forces, especially, is a sharp counterpoint to the happy talk about how the Surge is well on its way to fixing the security situation and “all” that remains is political reconciliation.
I look forward to reading the full report and will likely have more reaction when I have.
Other reactions worth reading:
- Frank Warner: “If you want to know when American troops can start withdrawing in significant numbers from Iraq, you need to know when the Iraq army will have more than 250,000 men.”/li>
- Michael Stickings argues this is “yet more evidence of how the Iraq War has been lost.”
- Jim Freeman: “It’s questionable whether a nation made up of warlords and militias can ever have a true National Police. The current version is shot full of sectarian groups, each with their private agenda and most often targeting rivals–when they show up.”
- Kathy @ Liberty Street: “[T]he Bush administration’s America-centric approach in Iraq is a political problem — and that political problem has to be addressed first. . . .”
- AllahPundit argues that the news about Maliki’s “‘second, and politically motivated’ command structure in the army” is “a much bigger problem than rebuilding the force, especially when they’re trying to integrate Sunni tribesmen and insurgents into it as a reward for helping purge Anbar of Al Qaeda..”
UPDATE: I just got an email from the House Republican Conference entitled, “EXCERPTS: Jones Commission Confirms Progress in Iraq.” Oy.
UPDATE (9/7): ACUS links the full report [PDF] and a video of General Jones’ Senate Armed Services committee testimony.
*Disclosure: Starting 10 September, General Jones will be my boss (actually, my boss‘ boss) at the Atlantic Council of the United States. More details will be forthcoming in a subsequent post.